Mayor Walsh: Please support my son’s dream of a new high school

Roxbury Prep students are waiting for City Hall to help make building plan a reality

Dear Mayor Walsh,

It was wonderful to meet you last month at the Boston Latin School service event, which honored the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I was able to get this great picture of you with my son. You said you liked his Boston College hat, given that you are a proud alum.

It is as meaningful to me as it is to you.

My son received that hat for school because his homeroom this year at Roxbury Prep Charter School is called Boston College. At Roxbury Prep, all of the homerooms are named after universities, underscoring the school’s mission to send every child to and through college.

When Braxton was in 4th grade, the principal at the school he attended wrote me a letter saying that my son was not “college material,” and that I should start thinking of other plans for him. Instead, I entered him into the charter school lottery at Roxbury Prep, where he received a 5th grade placement.

Braxton was so behind academically when he started at Roxbury Prep. And yet, with the incredible love and dedication of Roxbury Prep teachers, my son is no longer behind. In fact, he makes honor roll and now receives MCAS scores at or above the state average. Most importantly, college is absolutely in his future, just as it is for all of Roxbury Prep’s students. He feels proud. He feels smart. He knows that he matters.

Only one thing is missing: a state-of-the-art high school building for Braxton and his hardworking classmates to learn in as they prepare to pursue their dream of a college education. You can play a huge role in helping with this by getting the project onto the agenda for the upcoming February 13 monthly meeting of the Boston Planning and Development Agency, which must sign off on the plan.

As you know, Roxbury Prep and their students and parents have been working for several years to develop 361 Belgrade Avenue in Roslindale into a beautiful, new high school that would be an asset to our community, and replace the run-down auto dealership that sits there now. Roxbury Prep has searched all over the city and had to balance cost, public transportation access, where the students live, as well as educational use zoning in searching for a building. For all those elements, 361 Belgrade turned out to be the very best location.

I have been helping to fight for this new building from the beginning — from the first proposal through all of the public meetings. I have been proud of the way that Roxbury Prep has listened to community input, even downsizing the size and scope of the facility to be responsive to community concerns. The location could not be better—a train station right behind the building, plus multiple bus lines at its front door.

I live in West Roxbury, so I know that not all of your constituents want a school there. I know they keep citing traffic and safety issues, but some of us wonder if it’s really traffic and safety they are worried about. I have heard people say things about my children, who are of African descent, and have heard alleged fears about the mayhem that the influx of “teenagers” might cause.

To these concerns I say this: Come to one of Roxbury Prep’s middle schools and watch dismissal as I have. Adults are always outside ensuring students are getting off to their homes safely and acting as a positive presence in the neighborhood. Roxbury Prep is a good neighbor across the city in its other locations and would be a good neighbor in Roslindale, too.

I have been encouraged by the reactions of a majority of my Roslindale and West Roxbury neighbors. This was reflected in the fact that 85 percent of the comments filed during the official BPDA comment period were supportive of the project. Despite the opposition of some who cite traffic as the problem, the vast majority of the community around 361 Belgrade has shown overwhelming support.

Now, how about you?

Mr. Mayor, Roxbury Prep did everything it was supposed to do, but now we need your public support. We are asking you to put the Roxbury Prep High School project on the BPDA board meeting agenda for February 13, and we need you to make a public statement about whether you think our students deserve a building in a location already zoned for a school. On January 16, the BPDA held its regular monthly meeting while our kids were outside City Hall in the cold asking why they were left off the agenda yet again.

Please don’t let that happen again.

Meet the Author
My child can dream about college. But before that, we are all dreaming about the high school facility these kids deserve.

Sarah Rocha is a West Roxbury resident. Her son, Braxton Rocha, is a 7th-grade student at Roxbury Prep Mission Hill.